The New York State Court of Appeals addressed what is a “trivial” defect in Hutchinson v. Sheridan Hill House Corp., 215 N.Y. Slip Op. 07578 (Oct. 20, 2015). The Hutchinson court dealt with three separate appeals in which the Appellate Division found the defects to be “trivial” in each. While under New York law, a court can rule a defect trivial as a matter of law, the Court of Appeals defined the critical question of when a defect is in fact “trivial”. Standing alone, the actual dimension and size of the defect cannot ultimately determine the question. Courts are now directed to look at the circumstances surrounding the condition and not simply the condition itself. The Court noted that summary judgment should never be granted based solely on the dimension of the alleged defect. Various factors come into play. A certain defect may be trivial if it is in area where it can be readily seen, or in an area where pedestrians are not distracted by other characteristics in the same vicinity. Accordingly, even a physically small defect can be actionable and as a matter of law not “trivial” if it is in area with conditions that make it hard to appreciate including poor lighting, or in a heavily traveled area.
As with all of our litigation defense matters, we pride ourselves on conducting thorough comprehensive discovery. We continue to address all of the factors that the court will need to make decisions favorable to our clients.